Dr Chiara Letizia

Research Affiliate


A social anthropologist and historian of religions, Chiara Letizia is Professor of South Asian Religions at the University of Québec in Montréal and Researcher and Lecturer in Cultural Anthropology at the University of Milan Bicocca. She is a research affiliate at the School of Anthropology & Museum Ethnography, University of Oxford and an associate member of the Centre for Himalayan Studies of the CNRS.

She obtained a Master’s Degree in Comparative Ethnology and Sociology at the University of Paris X Nanterre in 2000 and her PhD in History of Religions from the University of Rome, ‘La Sapienza’, Italy in 2003. She held a postdoctoral position in Paris in 2004 (CNRS Research Team “Milieux, Sociétés et Cultures en Himalaya”, Villejuif) and was a Newton Fellow at the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford from 2009 to 2011.

Chiara’s research interests focus on the anthropology of South Asia, Buddhism, Hinduism, ritual and symbolism, religion and politics, ethnic and religious activism. She has focused her fieldwork on the religious anthropology of Nepal. She has studied: Buddhist cults and initiation rituals in the Newar society of Kathmandu valley (1996-8); Hindu pilgrimages in the Tarai (1999-2003); Buddhist activism in relation with the ethnicization of politics after the advent of democracy (2004-2007).

Since 2010, she has been investigating the meanings, the shaping and the implementation of secularism in Nepal,  and the role of the judiciary in this process.


2016. Gellner, David N., Sondra L. Hausner and Chiara Letizia (eds). Religion, Secularism and Ethnicity in Contemporary Nepal. Delhi: Oxford University Press.

016. Gellner, David N. and Chiara Letizia. ‘Introduction: Religion and Identities in Post-Panchayat Nepal’, in David N. Gellner et al. (eds) Religion, Secularism and Ethnicity in Contemporary Nepal, pp. 1-32. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

2016. ‘Ideas of Secularism in Contemporary Nepal’, in David N. Gellner et al. (eds) Religion, Secularism and Ethnicity in Contemporary Nepal, pp. 35-75. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

2016. ‘Buddha was Tharu?’, in Jeffrey Samuels, Mark Rowe and Justin McDaniel (eds)Figures of Buddhist Modernity in Asia, pp. 88-91. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

2016. Review of ‘The Modern Spirit of Asia: The Spiritual and the Secular in China and India’ by Peter van der Veer. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014. 296 pp., American Anthropologist 118/2: 459-460.

2016. ‘National Gods at the Court. Secularism and the judiciary in Nepal’, in Daniela Berti, Gilles Tarabout and Raphael Voix (eds), Religion and the Courts in South Asia, pp. 34-68. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

2015. ‘The “secularism case”: prosecution of a Hindu activist before a quasi-judicial authority in the Nepal Tarai’, in Daniela Berti and Devika Bordia (eds) Regimes of Legality. Ethnography of Criminal Cases in South Asia, pp. 129-170. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. 

2015. ‘Shaping secularism through the judiciary in Nepal: two case studies from the Kathmandu Supreme Court’,  in P. Losonczi and W. Van Herck (eds), Secularism, Religion, and Politics: Concepts and contexts in India and Europe, London and New York: Routledge.

2014. ‘Buddhist Activism, New Sanghas, and the Politics of Belonging among Some Tharu and Magar Communities of Southern Nepal’, in J. Pfaff-Czarnecka, and G. Toffin (eds), Facing Globalisation in the Himalayas. Belonging and the Politics of the Self , pp. 286-322. Delhi: Sage.

2013. ‘The goddess Kumari at the Supreme Court: Divine kinship and secularism in Nepal, in L. Michelutti and A. Forbess (eds) , Divine kinship and politics, FOCAAL, Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology, 67: 32- 46.

2012. ‘A state goddess in the new secular Nepal. Reflections on the Kumari case at the Supreme Court’. In M. Rosati and K. Stoeckl (eds) Multiple Modernities and Postsecular Societies, pp. 115-141.  Farnham: Ashgate.

2012. ‘The State of Religion in a Non-Religious State: Discourses and practices in the secular republic of Nepal: Workshop report’, European Bulletin of Himalayan Research40: 110-115.

2011. ‘Shaping secularism in Nepal’, European Bulletin of Himalayan Research 39: 66-104.

2010.‘The Sacred Confluence, Between Nature and Culture’, in M. Lecomte-Tilouine (ed.) Nature, culture and religion at the crossroads of Asia, pp. 344-369. New Delhi: Social Science Press.

2009. ‘L’abito rituale fa il monaco newar. Sul rito di iniziazione delle alte caste buddhiste newar del Nepal’, in ed. S. Botta Abiti, corpi, identità. Significati e valenze profonde del vestire, pp. 291-315. Firenze: SEF.

2007. ‘Réflexions sur la notion de conversion dans la diffusion du bouddhisme Theravada au Népal’. In . Beaucauge and D. Meintel (eds),  Social and Political Dimensions of Religious Conversion Anthropologica 49 (1): 51-66.

2007. La costruzione di un’identità buddhista in Nepal: l’esempio dei Tharu e dei Magar, in R. Malighetti (ed), Politiche dell’identità, pp. 45-73. Roma: Meltemi Editore.

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